Monday, November 28, 2011

Into The Fog--by Linda Kozar

“Don’t go.” I grabbed at her sleeve, a breathless fear rising.
She stared ahead, oblivious to my touch. “I have to.”
“But it’s getting dark. People round here don't cross that bridge when it’s foggy. They take the highway. The road to the bridge gets slick. Can't see two feet in front of you.”
She shook her head, “We’ll be fine. Besides, I want to drive at night when the kids are asleep. It’s easier that way.”
I looked her over, gathering clues to her state of mind from the state of her appearance. Her shoulder-length red hair, once beautiful, was matted in a rat’s nest of neglect. And the dress she wore--an orange and brown pattern, baggy and twisted out of shape, like she’d slept in it. My cousin Kelsey was nothing less than a mess. Six kids, six years and a sick marriage had taken its toll.
Was this woman the same “Kels” I knew growing up? Back then, she was slender with cascading curls of long vibrant red hair and transparent blue eyes, blue as sun-jeweled waters.
“I need to leave.”
Voice low as a purr, I’d heard that familiar tone before. Call it determination or stubborness, I realized she wouldn’t be listening to anything I had to say.
“You think he’s with her, don’t you?”
She hesitated. Pulled a thread from her sleeve. “Yes, I do.”
“What do you hope to accomplish? Do you plan on confronting them with your kids right there with you?” I shook my head. “Not a good idea. That would be traumatic. You can’t do that to them.”
She tugged at the same thread, this time successful at unraveling a line of cloth.
“Look, Kels—why don’t you just stay here with me for awhile? Move here with me and start your life over. He’s not worth it.”
            Instead of answering, she continued to pull and tug at the lone thread,
Why she married him. . .
Kelsey could have had her pick, but she chose a man who never worked.
Why she married . .
Beat her too.
Why him?
Suddenly, she spoke. “I know what I look like to you. I do look in the mirror, you know.” Her eyes fixed forward as if focusing on something. “Just tired, that's all.“
She rubbed her right eye and as she did so, I noticed her wrist looked crooked.
“What’s with that?" I asked.  "Your arm looks odd.”
She drew her arm down and tucked it under her sleeve. “A tiny fracture. Guess I broke it lifting furniture or something. It healed okay though.”
I stomped. “Why, why do you stay with him?”
She smiled from the corner of her lip. “He’s my husband, silly.” She looked away. “Besides, I love. . .” She shrugged—as if the gesture itself finished the sentence. "He was, was so romantic when we first met. Flowers, even when he couldn’t afford. . . Her voice caught in he throat for a moment. “I was beautiful.” Her voice trailed off.  “He said so.”
I grabbed at straws, “Well good riddance. You may have lost him, but you have the kids. Even if he doesn’t love you anymore, he cares about his kids. He does care about his kids, doesn’t he?”
She leaned back against the car and looked up at me.
A chill ran through me. Something about her eyes seemed to set off an innate fear. Something.
Uneasy, she must have sensed my thoughts. She turned away, instead focusing on the kids playing on the merry-go-round at my apartment complex.
Nodding her head, she answered, “Oh, of course he likes the kids. He just doesn’t want to be bothered with raising them.” She slapped a mosquito off her arm.
“The kids are my responsibility.”
“And his too. He needs to step up and help you.”
She dug the heel of her shoe into the gravel edging the lot. “He won’t.”
“But. . .”
 She cut in.  “Look, it’s getting dark. We’d better go.” She held her hands to her mouth and let out a shrill whistle. “Kids--get in the car, we’re leaving.”
            I gripped the door handle. “Please Kels, don’t go. We could--we could take the kids to the zoo tomorrow. How about it?”
With a gentle, but firm touch, she peeled my hands off the handle and took them into hers. “You have to work tomorrow. Besides, we’ve already overstayed our welcome.”
“But you only got here yesterday. One day, that’s all. It’s nothing.”
She laughed. “Say goodbye to the kids, dear cousin.”
            She opened the door and threw in a diaper bag. The kids surrounded the car, scented with sun and play, glistening hair clinging to their heads. My brow, still crinkled in disapproval at her decision, I stared down at Shay and softened. He was the oldest, the one who’d seen the most. Things a child shouldn’t see.
Tall and thin for his age; he seemed older than six years, guarded, yet vulnerable. My heart went out to him. I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a big bear squeeze. “I love you, buddy.”
The freckled face smiled back at me. For a moment, he reminded me of Kels, the way she used to be. I lifted him up and planted a kiss on his cheek, then turned to the others. Amy, Tammy, the twins Bobby and Trace and the baby, little Marce-- my namesake. I lingered longest with her and nibbled on her tiny ear until she giggled.
“Time to go.” Kelsey ordered.
I helped her fasten the children in her old blue Impala. Finally, she leaned in to start the chugging engine. A gray cloud of noxious smoke from the exhaust blew out. I coughed.
Her eyes met mine as if longing to tell me something, lips moving as if to speak, but no word—nothing escaped her mouth.
I broke the silence. “Kels, is there something you want, something you need to tell me?”
She leaned in to kiss my cheek. “I love you Marcy, always have. You are my truest friend in the world. The only one.”
Tears swelled and overflowed my eyes. “I-I love you too.” Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a wad of money and pressed it into her hand.
“What this for?”
“Oh, I don’t know--to help you start a new life maybe.” I closed her fist around it with my hands. “I mean it.”
With surprising force, she pushed the wad of money back into my hands. “Keep it, Marcy. Keep it. I won’t, don't need your money.”
“Don’t be proud.” I fired back. “You know you’re going to need it. If not for you, then take it for them.” I pointed toward the kids, their tiny faces turned toward us, hanging on every word.
“My answer is NO. And you know how stubborn I am. I don’t need it and I won’t take it from you. Not now. Not ever.”
Her features set in stone, I knew it was pointless to argue. Why upset the kids? They’d certainly been through enough.
We fell into each other’s arms and clung, trembling.
I spoke what was in my heart. “I’m so sad all this happened to you. I-I wish your life had turned out better, happier.”
For a moment, I thought she’d break down, that the tears would come, the wall would crumble. But she pulled away. Her eyes moist, fluid, she kissed my cheek. “Bye now.” Kelsey slid into the tattered driver’s seat and put the car in reverse.
“Hey,” I yelled over the sound of the struggling engine, “Can we say a prayer together?”
She shook her head. “No time.” With that, she switched gears and pulled out the lot.
Following the car, I motioned. “Aren’t you going to buckle up?”
“I will later,” she yelled back.
I blew her a kiss in the same moment she blew me one, inspiring a weak smile. I smiled back, my own lips trembling. The kids waved and said sweet goodbyes in little singsong voices.
Maybe they’ll close that old bridge tonight.
A high-pitched whine of cicadas punctuated their departure as the old blue Impala rattled off down the road, a trail of gray fumes in its wake. Lips moving in prayer, I ran down the road after it waving at the kids, following with my eyes as far as I could see.
But long shadows swallowed the light between us, the view quickly diminished to a mere dim and blur.
What was she hiding? 
I thought of her eyes again. Blue as sun-jeweled waters.
And watched as the opaque fog coiled in, fear cementing my feet to the ground as thoughts came together like puzzle pieces. 


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